Mike Gallagher, a former police detective with the Philadelphia Police Department, has been working as the police liaison for Women Against Abuse, so that he can help survivors in ways he couldn’t as a detective. Now, Mike plays a critical role in the WAA Legal Center, bridging the gap between law enforcement and victim services by advocating within the justice system for better understanding and treatment of survivors.
After twenty years on the force, detective Mike Gallagher decided to take a different career path, and made the switch from law enforcement to advocacy. After watching the criminal justice system fall short for so many people, he wanted to get on the other side of the problem, and work to make the system better for people in need. After nine years of investigating domestic violence cases, Mike knew that this was where he was needed.
“As a police officer and detective, I thought we were the fixers,” Gallagher said about his time on the force. As an officer of the law, Mike saw his job as fixing problems by arresting the bad guys, and the justice system would do the rest. But, as he watched the systems inadequacies in delivering justice to the people who needed it most, he realized that the problem of intimate partner violence can’t be solved with an easy fix.
Stalking and strangulation are behaviors of domestic violence that have proven to be hard for the justice system to understand prove and punish. Stalking is difficult to prosecute because of the subtle nature of the entire action. Showing up at someone’s work, sending them Facebook messages and driving by their house everyday are just a few actions involved in stalking that cannot solely be prosecuted. “The acts themselves may not be criminal,” Mike remarked on the nature of stalking. “You have to put together the whole action.” At the WAA Legal Center, Mike and the attorneys see these kinds of cases every day, and they’re doing what they can to help these victims find peace. The main way they empower victims of stalking is to help them be their own best advocate, and gather as much evidence as they possibly can.
In addition to stalking, strangulation is one of the behaviors of domestic violence that can be especially difficult to prove. The biggest issue with the identification of strangulation is that law enforcement and medical professionals often rely on the presence of bruising or ligature marks on the neck to determine if strangulation occurred, but visible marks are not always present, especially on individuals with darker skin. What some responding officers do not realize is that strangulation can cause neurological and psychological trauma. These invisible symptoms can cause a person to appear intoxicated or seem uncooperative. “We’ve been teaching that now in our police trainings,” Mike said about the lesser known signs of strangulation.
Even though the job comes with some tough challenges, Mike continues to love every day of work. He says it’s the clients that really make this job worthwhile. “Working with some really strong people and seeing the problems they face every day and being able to help them get through it and match them with the service they need. That’s the best thing,” said Mike. “To see the resilience when they come to you, they give you strength. Our clients give us strength to go forward.”
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